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Whenever I try to record myself playing, this happens:

-I play the first few bars, I hear a tiny mistake (even the smallest thing like playing a note a bit too loud than I intended), and even if I try to go on, it just keeps bugging me that I didn't play it right so I stop focusing and mess it up. -Rinse and repeat.

I have trouble focusing and getting into the "zone" and for some reason when I'm recording, even though I'm alone, I get more self-conscious. I feel like whatever I play it doesn't come out good enough and the more I repeat, it starts sounding bland to me.

It's pretty frustrating >< I try to practice in sections and focus on the hard parts, then when I play something from start to finish I can't seem to get the thing right.

Please save me from my despair and agony. Any tips?

  • 1
    Welcome to the site! Have a long look at the sidebar on the right - there are several questions like yours, with great answers already. – Tim Mar 23 '17 at 16:32
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    If you ever figure out how to record perfect takes, you can probably make good money being a session artist. Outside of that, I think I can speak for the majority of musicians when I say I'm pretty sure I've never made a take with no mistakes. And if you listen closely to some of the great guitarists who recorded before computers made editing easier, you'll hear they made mistakes all the time also. – Todd Wilcox Mar 23 '17 at 18:46
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    Mildly related: "Don't practice until you can do it right, practice until you can't do it wrong." – Richard Mar 23 '17 at 18:50
  • "I try to practice in sections and focus on the hard parts" - if there are parts you actually find hard, then the likelihood is that you will mess at least one of them up in any given take, especially with the added pressure of consciously trying to make it a clean take. – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 23 '17 at 20:02
  • Sounds like you should read: Inner Game of Music by Barry Green or Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner. They have some techniques to help with this type of issue. – George Geschwend Mar 23 '17 at 23:48

11 Answers 11

12

I'm going to take a different tack on this one.

Yes, we all make mistakes, pretty much all the time, every time.
The trick is to not let it bother you.

Getting worse when the record button is pressed is known as "Red Light Fever".

It affects everyone to some degree. The only way past it is... well... to get past it. The more you record the more used to the red light you get, until eventually there's no more pressure on you doing a take than there was doing the rehearsal - which I bet you got right, didn't you?

I can only think of a few ways to avoid red light fever other than "get past it" & they all involve drugs or alcohol... which of course mitigate the fear but make the performance worse, so get no recommendation from me.

As mentioned in comments, if you can get it right every single take you ought to become a session musician. They probably don't get it right every time either, but there's editing to fix that, which brings us to the next part...

If you're recording yourself & you go wrong -
leave the recorder running, pause yourself, take a deep breath, start playing from a few bars earlier & keep on until you make another mistake.
Rinse, repeat.
Edit the takes together later. No-one but you will ever know you did it.

  • 3
    +1 for editing the takes together alone. I've Frankensteined entire tracks out of a number of good takes to get a good version. – Joe McMahon Mar 24 '17 at 1:21
  • Another +1 for editing takes together. Ask any professional recording engineer and they'll tell you 90% of all solos and vocal recordings are edits of the best bits from multiple takes. Relax, we have unlimited recording attempts in the modern age and it's easier than ever to comp them together! – Ralphonz Jul 3 '17 at 23:56
4

As others have said, be aware that you will make mistakes while playing. Just don't stop.

I have found that mentally selecting one of two "modes" works: I am either practicing, where I will repeat a section of a piece until I get it right, and might stop to correct mistakes, or performing, where I will keep going whatever happens.

Playing in a group (band, orchestra) will help with this, too. No progress is made if the whole group stops whenever one person makes a mistake.

3

I think that perhaps you need a different approach. If you start off intending to play every note perfectly (and nothing else will do) then I'm not surprised that you never make it. You are being super critical of yourself to the extent that playing one note a bit too loud is enough to make you think that you are doing badly.

So stop it. Decide that you are going to record the whole piece and review it afterwards. Don't think about any mistakes or misjudgements, just play the piece. Then listen to it back. Do it again a few times. I bet you can decide that there are errors in every one but would anyone else think so? Chose which one you think you did best and keep that one.

You might find after a while that a more relaxed approach gets you closer to where you want to be.

Good luck

2

I'm like you :) Maybe one tip could be try to practice to not think too much about playing that part! For example have you ever tried to play the part while talking about something else? At the beginning it's even more frustraing but later you kinda unlock yourself. The ultimate goal of everybody should be to play without think too much about it (one DVD that opened my mind is Victor Wooten Groove Workshop, every musicians need to watch it!!). Anyway I'm telling you this because I dont think the problem is you're technique but your heavy expectations you have on yourself!

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    No kidding. The brain is definitely a roadblock to a good performance. Of course, taking it out of the equation is easier said than done, – mikeford Mar 23 '17 at 17:19
  • Not having a brain would also be a roadblock to a good performance :) – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 24 '17 at 13:04
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It sounds to me like one of the things you need to practice is to not stop for mistakes.

Practicing playing a piece from start to finish without stopping for mistakes. Don't focus on whether mistakes are being made, try to not even think about how many are being made, just try to get from start to finish without stopping, and when you do, tell yourself that it was a success and that the object of the exercise did not result in a mistake.

If you practice that, then your brain will be less intrusive about it when you do record or perform and make a mistake and can't afford to stop.

1

It's sometimes said that the best thing to do when a mistake happens live is to repeat it, thereby making it seem as if it was a deliberate thing. Well, that's perhaps not always good advice, but it does hold some water and may be understood as a general principle: musicianship is all about interacting and reacting to what happens. Mostly, reacting to what your co-performers are doing, but also what you yourself / your instrument are doing. If that one note came out a bit louder than originally intended – well never mind that now, just make sure you give it a meaningful context, perhaps by making a few following tones also a bit louder until a point where a decrescendo fits nicely.

If the mistake happened and you weren't able to quickly react in such a way, also never mind. The show must go on, whatever happened has happened. IMO a recording session should also be approached no different from a live performance in this regard. If a mistake has happened, you thus want to not worry about it or think how you'll cut that part out etc.. But also not try to immediately forget it, that never works. Instead, “shrug it off” is the thing to do.

But all of this is little good to say – really, it just needs to come naturally. That requires routine above all. Play lots of music, preferrably not alone but with others, jam along. Play! And practise, too, which should be approached rather differently from recording/live – when practising, you should certainly not just shrug off any details that don't quite work out as intended, but instead give these details extra attention.

1

You are focussing on the mistakes rather than the rest of the piece.That's apparent when you say you stop after making even a small one. Just about every student I've had has had to get to the other side of this syndrome. You can't un-make a mistake. Ask yourself - what's the point in stopping, the mistake has occurred - it's too late! And the rest of the piece may have been brilliant - but you'll never know!!

Get used to the fact that we all make mistakes - some of which actually are not mistakes, but merely a different way to play something. O.k., it may not have been the way you intended to play a note/phrase etc., but serendipity is a great place to be when playing music. Listen to a recording, and ask yourself if actually, it was that bad, would anybody else pick up on that glitch, was it actually a glitch or could it have been played like that anyway?

Imagine watching a band live, and the guitarist made what he thought was a mistake. Would you find it acceptable if he stopped playing, or stopped the band playing? That stuff is at infant school! Play through, take no notice, blame the bass player (I do!).

Change the whole attitude to playing, and relax - not easy, but there's always the next time, isn't there? And with modern equipment, nothing has to be done in a whole take.

Above all, if you're making mistakes that are glaring, you haven't prepared enough yet, so keep practising - but don't try to get a piece exactly the same every time you play it - vary the timing, the notes, the nuances, so in your mind there just isn't one correct way to play a piece.

1

While the easy answer is "practice, practice, practice", the more direct answer in this situation is record, record, record.

As a drummer, it's often necessary to get everything right in a single take. Unlike other instruments, drums can be difficult to overdub or punch-in and, even on the best recording, these options sound false to the player.

With other instruments, it's been shown that doing multiple takes all the way through and overlaying them with proper mixing can often give you the desired result. This can make it so the tiny mistake is lost in the mix where other takes were stronger. For example, with guitar tracks, I generally do 4 or 5 and mix them to get the best possible sound that is closest to what I wanted when I wrote the piece.

1

The single most important thing you learn when you're doing grades and exams in any instrument is you never ever EVER stop. Not for anything. Perhaps on a scale you might say "I know didn't get that right, is it OK if I have another go?" But for a piece, you keep going regardless.

If you start playing with other people, you realise why. You're only a part of the overall tune. Everyone makes mistakes, but the tune has to carry on.

A good first stab would be forcing yourself into the exams/grades mindset, that you don't stop. Better would be to start playing with other musicians. Not only does that develop a whole lot more skills (like listening whilst playing), but it's a more fun way of learning the same thing.

1

I don't think you're alone. In fact, I bet there's at least one solution to this for every musician alive today. I'd even bet that most musicians have three or four ways to combat this since none of them work quite as well as they like.

I think the key to all of the solutions is to find ways to convince yourself to play music, rather than record a recording. It's the difference between living in the moment and living in the future. If you're just playing music, you're in the moment. Your sole job is to play the music, and if it happens to get recorded, great. If you're recording a recording, you have an image of what you think it should sound like in your head and you're forcing it out through your fingers. The more you stress, the more you force it.

Not that any of that paragraph is news to you, of course.

I feel like whatever I play it doesn't come out good enough and the more I repeat, it starts sounding bland to me

I think there's an opening here to help break free of the recorder blues. You chose to use the word "repeat." Try to avoid using that thinking. The last version got played. It's done. Play a new rendition of the song. Give it it's own energy. Thinking of each and every take as its own unique rendition can help prevent it from going dull by repeating the same song over and over. It's a small mindset shift, but its one that can inspire your fingers.

Uniqueness also helps with the issue of mistakes. Instead of thinking "oh, this take is ruined," think of it as "oh, this take is unique." Sometimes, later, you'll have to admit that yes indeed this take is ruined, but don't think of it that way until later. Sometimes, you may find that that particular deviation inspired something new that you never thought of before. I'm rather confident that a series of deviations is how the entire jazz genre got started!

I remember seeing Lindsey Stirling in concert where she demonstrated this effect brilliantly. Like all big names, Lindsey had an opening act. They, like all opening acts, were less polished than the main act. That's no surprise. Lindsey chose to bring the singer back on stage part way through her main set and did a duet with her. On one note, the singer simply missed. It was as wrong of a note as any note you might have hit on your recording. Lindsey, of course, hit the right note on her violin, but then without a moment's hesitation, she slid the note up to the "wrong" note. In doing so, she made the "wrong" note sound right, and who was to argue with her? As a result, we got to hear a unique rendition of the song that no one else has gotten to hear, and frankly, it demonstrated something amazing that the original couldn't. I wouldn't have remembered that performance of the song if it had been done right, I remember it for being done wrong brilliantly.

Failing that, find an excuse to get used to the big red button. Record random parts of your life. Records yourself washing dishes. Try to wash dishes such that the recording sounds perfect! Perfect, of course, is by your own definition, and that's the point. Once you're ready to put your audio track of washing dishes up on youtube, I'm confident you'll find recording an instrument is a lot less daunting!

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Practice slowly, with metronome perhaps. Slowly enough to make NO mistakes, and to recognise where a wrong fingering or hand position has made you correct a 'fumble', even if it is a successful correction! (I'm thinking in keyboard terms, if you play something else, translate to your instrument's technique).

Don't expect slow practice to pay dividends in THAT practice session. The magic happens overnight.

I repeat, if you make a mistake at any given speed, go back to a slower one.

You don't have to be pedantic about playing the WHOLE piece super-slow to solve a difficult section. But you do need a substantial lead-in and lead-out at the slow tempo.

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